Do you have one in your life?
After a long time, my friend A and I had a chance to have a (now rare) long afternoon cozy girl chat. As is the case with long cozy girl chats, we fleeted in and out of a hundred topics, laughing at silly jokes, empathising with each other, pulling each others' legs and generally reminiscing about the days/years gone by and how far we have come.

Having a BFF (best friend forever) means so much. It is so much easier to unburden yourself without the fear of being judged or misunderstood. The light-hearted gossip, the secrets shared, the out-pourings of a bruised heart, the silly banter is something one can enjoy only in the best friend's company. True, a husband can be a great friend too but sometimes only a girl can understand another :-) There is no better medicine than to talk your heart out to your BFF. Even if s/he does not really share your opinion, you wouldn't regret one bit in letting your soul bare. You'll be told exactly what you need to hear, also in the manner best suited to you. There are no instant solutions given at times, just an attentive ear for that's all you need then. There is an untold telepathy that senses what would be the right therapy. You can really be your dumb self and still not be laughed at. Your deepest/darkest secret is safe with her/him. When your hesitant, concerned confession like,"you know, I did this" is met by "thank God, you said this. You won't believe what I did!", you've met your soul-friend.

Now, this friend and I have known each other for about 18 years now. Phew! sounds like a lifetime, isn't it? And yes, which means we have pretty much been with each other through our best, worst and all the in-between times. I shared her ecstasy when she cleared her MBA entrance exams and went to study in one of the best colleges, promising to be in touch for the brief period she was going to be away studying in a different city. And remain in touch we did. She was in turn my sounding board when I went through the lows in my life and needed someone to just listen to what I said. We were there for each another during happy and sad times. Each time, life took us different ways, literally or figuratively, I felt maybe the relationship might lose the steam and die a natural death but somehow life also ensured we meet at interjections and refuel lost momentum. Our friendship has survived the odd misunderstandings, ensuing fights and long-distances. Touchwood!

So, have we changed as persons in so many years? Yes! we have evolved in some ways. Our personalities have undergone some changes too. Has our equation then changed? Hell no! we are still the same giggly girls in core who connect at a deeper level. It seems incredible that we have journeyed together through our formative years, significant phases of life and then come full-circle where we witness our kids being each others' play dates. Time will only tell if they too become friends to carry forward the legacy.

So, do you have one such friend in your life? 

All about R

It has been so long I haven't updated this space about R. He is growing really fast and we have gotten so used to his non-stop chatter that it does not seem like a recent development at all.

R has a new play now. He arranges all his toys neatly in a long queue or just places them at several interjections to resemble vehicles at a traffic signal.

He loves to observe the working of the ants. Of late there has been a entourage of some big black ants in the house. He lies face down and observes them and can remain quiet for more than 5 minutes thus. The other day I caught him having a small chat with an ant," inge po, veleeya po..door pinnani po" But before I could capture the innocence on a video camera, he caught me with the camera and the moment was all lost :-(

If I ask him to come out of the bathroom after bath, he'd say ," amma, nee po...haallu ku po" !

Every few minutes when he is bored or feels he needs to be given some attention, he'd ask, "amma..nee enna pannrai?"

He is constantly saying something, pointing to some object-could be something in his book or a toy, or humming a rhyme (the rhyme is invariably set to the tune of A B C D...) or a song. Yes, he has taken to singing. Finally, maybe he has inherited some of my genes. Err..although it seems unfair to state that what he hums is quite not flattering to my genes. But it a start, nevertheless right? And, since everyone who sees R, remarks about how he looks likes the husband or how his mannerisms resemble that of the husband, I am holding on closely to whatever traits may have from me.

ETA: just remembered some more R facts :-)

R exercises his independence wherever he is able to ( and also allowed to). He has taken a new fancy to wearing his shorts/trousers by himself when at home. If I happen to help him or do it myself, he would remove it off and wear it again himself, saying "neeye neeye..which means "naane" actually !

Door mats that are inadvertently left creased/folded on one side are neatly straightened and kept at the correct angle :-)

Time to say bye, already???

..was the feeling that hit us on the morning of our last day in SL. No more of the ready-made breakfast to greet us on the table, no more of getting ready with a song on the lips, no more of packing bags with ready-to-eat food and camera and no more of crashing down to sleep with a weary but fulfilled feeling. Vacation does more harm than good in some ways. But who cares??? I am already ready for the next ;-)

We hounded a few shops the previous evening in the greed to grab some smart outfits but I was quite disappointed. The ones that fitted my taste were not exactly worth the tag price. I might as well buy the stuff here. It wasn't all that exclusive too. We were probably looking for the right things at the wrong place too. However it didn't matter. We got some books and toys for R in the end.

Pictures from the previous evening:

The twin tower-world trade centre

The White House

We took a tuk-tuk the next day to the national museum. Chatting with the local people in a foreign place gives you the true feel of the place. This guy could speak broken English and was most happy to chat with us. He (read an average Sri Lankan) loved Bollywood films and music. An enthusiastic "oh yes Hindi movies! SRK, Suniel Shetty, Akshay Kumar!" was the first response to our question. Well..anyway..
I mentioned earlier that SL is a cricket crazed nation. The notion rubbed in further while talking to this young chap. He spoke passionately about his favourite SL cricketers and even had the IPL song as his mobile ring tone. He persuaded us to book him for the return journey to the hotel, offering to wait for us till we finished with our museum tour, lunch and a little shopping if time permitted. We were already aware of the average tariff for the round trip. He was asking for a little more and good-naturedly chided us when we haggled a bit.( sigh! some things are so eerily familiar) The only difference being, it was a few hundreds there while it could be a few tens here. Money sure has even lesser value there.

The national museum

R was least cooperative during the museum tour. Actually, I really didn't expect him to quietly tag along with us while we appreciated ancient history. So, we took turns (rather I let the husband do a more detailed tour while I handled R in the lawn outside) in entertaining R. We then went to House of Fashion, a multi-storey shopping store to try our last chance at clothes-shopping. It was a Friday yet it looked as though the entire Colombo was there. Humongous crowd thronging every section equally, the place so maddening that we made a quick retreat and decided to have lunch instead. We went to an Indian restaurant, had a south Indian fare that had more spice than taste and returned to our hotel where our driver was waiting to take us to the airport. We had our first experience that day of the SL traffic with roads chock-a-block with vehicles. Still, none of the incessant honking that you'd find here in a similar scenario.

We came to SL in wake of the unpleasant incident of our blessed government voting against our sole friendly neighbour. Yet, everywhere we went, we found that India and people from India commanded respect and warmth from people there.
Happy and satisfied is how I would I felt as we bade farewell to Sri Lanka. Like someone remarked at the turtle farm- 'India, Sri Lanka- same country, same colour' :-) While it is true in some ways, I'd definitely like to visit this place again in future when I hope the country would've made much economic progress and yet retained all the good aspects that we got to see and experience. Here's wishing our neighbour the very best!

The beach, some turtles and Colombo- day 7

The next morning, we got up early to soak in some beach delight before the sun got oppressive and we, tanned. I am, for one, very anxious about not getting tanned. Beach lovers can tch-tch me but probably that's why I prefer the mountains to the sea. Of course I am not blind to nature's beauty and can appreciate the gorgeous sand and water when I visit one. Just that I cannot stand the patchy-skin once back home.

I applied sunscreen liberally on myself and Rand then the three of us set off to have some fun-time on the sands. The beach was literally a hop-skip and jump distance from our hotel. The golden silk-like sands kissed and hugged our feet even as the clear clean waters swept them away. The early morning rays penetrated deep into the waters (and into our skin) causing them (the water I mean) to shine like silver. R loved the water and squealed in delight each time the waves splashed on the shores soaking him wet. There wasn't much sand area, we noticed, as the sea-side restaurants and Inns had eaten much into the space spreading their lounge area well into the sandy beaches. At every spot we felt like we were infringing upon some property, so we decided to stroll along the long beach-line playing along with the waters as they licked our feet. After spending a little more than an hour on the beach, we gave in to our growling tummies and came back to our hotel, showered and sat down to eat a modest English breakfast of toast, butter, jam and tea.

Technically, it was the last day of our tour although we were to spend a good half of the next day in Colombo as our flight was scheduled in the evening. Mr. Shirley had his hands full with his next assignment beginning with a tourist group from Australia arriving that evening itself. He was to take our leave that evening while we were to be ferried to the airport the next evening by a different driver. But not before we checked off the rest of our tour itinerary that included a trip to a turtle hatching farm and a city tour of Colombo. We left for Mt.Lavinia, a suburb near Colombo after breakfast stopping en route at a turtle hatching farm in Kosgoda.

There are many hatching farms around these beaches. The turtle farm we went to is an endeavour started and run by some volunteers to save young turtles being eaten away by the larger sea animals and humans alike even before they hatch or as new born babies. The farm collects the eggs laid at night and hatches them at a secluded place, transfers them onto water tanks once they are hatched and then releases them out into the sea once they are a little older (a few days to couple of weeks old depending on the type of turtle). I learnt about some of the species of turtles like the Olive Ridley, Green Turtle (common around these areas of Kosgoda), Leatherback Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle. We got to hold the baby turtles in our hands. I was reluctant and apprehensive about holding one but soon gave in into the excitement levels of the husband and R. The necks of the turtle are extremely soft, much in contrast to their shell. The turtles are placed in different tanks depending upon their stage of growth, type and needs. Every tank is sponsored and supported by some foreign nationals. We even saw a rare albino turtle and a few handicapped ones (it saddened me to see these). R thoroughly enjoyed his tete a tete with the turtles and had to be dragged out after the tour. He threw up a tantrum and demanded to have the turtles and was even ready to be left with the caretakers of the place!

A dead egg which is very soft to touch

Eggs being hatched thus..O.R signifying Olive Ridley

An excited R

Back of a turtle

Olive Ridley

Green Turtle

An albino

We arrived at lunch time to the final destination of this tour, Mt. Lavinia. Knowing how much we were starved of eating familiar Indian food, Mr. Shirley took us to a typical Indian joint that served the usual idly, dosa along with the regular south Indian meals variety. Post lunch, we were taken on a quick tour around the popular areas of Colombo. Colombo was the first major city we visited in the entire trip. Although the mall culture is yet to touch SL, we saw a lot of multi-storeyed shopping centres, finally satisfying my curiosity about the presence of any big buildings at all in SL :-) Not only that, being the commercial capital, it is the hub for major companies and banks. We saw the erstwhile parliamentary house, the world trade centre and a Taj group of hotels that were situated over looking the sea, very reminiscent of the Worli Sea face in Mumbai. They even have a similar name for the area- Galle face. The colonial buildings and roads further reminded me of the fort area of Mumbai again.We bid adieu to Mr.Shirley in the evening, took tips from him about the shops where one could shop for clothes (SL is famous for cheap branded clothes, we had heard). He encouraged us to roam about more around the area in the metered autos, called Tuk-Tuk there. He ensured us about the safety and reliability of exploring thus. So, we slated the visit to the National museum for the next morning, aiming to dig around for some cheap clothes for the rest of the evening.

Pictures of Colombo to follow in the next and concluding part.

Unawatuna, Galle - day 6

At Unawatuna, we had our first brush of unpleasantness with our tour operator. When we landed at our hotel, we learnt that our rooms had been donated away to some English people who had come down to watch the cricket match at the Galle stadium. The caretaker or manager of the hotel had the cheek to tell us that he 'thought' the English group would leave before we came but then they 'extended' their stay so we'd have to adjust with another alternative accommodation. I mean how lame! I was not against adjusting or staying elsewhere per se, had the reason been a genuine one or result of true misunderstanding. But this was outrageous. I could not help thinking had this particular group been native or maybe even some south Asians, would they have still given away an already booked room away just on some request, however genuine?? It was not as though we had made a booking at the last minute. It was done a good one month in advance. I thought only Indians were fixated with the white skin and white people and would bend their backs to please them and here it was the same. Still, we went ahead to see what other alternative arrangement the manager had intended for us. The alternate hotel/room had me even more fuming. Our original intended place of stay was situated by the sea with a view opening into the sea. Although we didn't visit the rooms, we could clearly see that the trade off was not a fair one. I totally lost it and made it clear in no uncertain terms that we are unhappy with the alternate arrangement and they (the manager) cannot expect us to play into his hands. That guy seemed quite unruffled and took us to another place. Clearly he had planned his moves well. Thankfully for him and the rest of us, we liked this one. And, know what, this hotel was just adjacent to our original hotel! That bugger was just testing our threshold levels! I don't really blame the tour operator here for it was evident that the hotel manager had been working on a sly perhaps in lieu of some commission.

Anyway, we put the incident behind us and didn't let it colour our mind against our guide/tour operator. There was no point anyway in ingesting bitter pills in an another-wise sweet experience during the last leg of our tour. It was getting closer to sunset time and Mr. Shirley was of the opinion that it would be a good idea to see the sunset from the Galle fort. So, we rushed to the fort. The Galle fort, also known as the Dutch fort is one of the World heritage sites as recognised by UNESCO. The fort also faces the Galle Cricket Stadium on one side. We took pictures of the stadium from a vantage point. Cricket crazy fans throng the fort and sit on the wall ledges to catch the match playing at the stadium. We walked around the fort, clicked snaps of the sun setting and when it turned dark, strolled up to the light house where Mr. Shirley was waiting for us in the car.

Mahinda Rajapaksha pavilion

The Safari at Yala- day 5

Travelling through villages and towns, the common sights that greeted us were of fresh and inviting veggies and fruits, except of course Durian ;-) But one thing that had us absolutely drooling over was the tender coconut. What's new, don't we have that in India, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. This one is orange in colour and the the size is pretty much the same as our green ones but the water is sweeeeeeeeeet. A standard sized one holds so much water and yet has a sizeable amount of "malai" to eat at the end of the fruit. In my experience in India, if the coconut is big, the water is more but rarely ever this sweet and if you want the "malai-wala", then the water may be sweet but before you can relish you'd reach the bottom. But this one, rightly called the King coconut, is a combination of plentiful sweet water (always) and a good chunk of tasty malai in the end.We devoured one whenever and wherever we could.

The Yala National park is one of the most visited national parks in Sri Lanka. It has about 5 blocks out of which only one or two is open to tourists. It houses elephants, wild buffaloes, leopards, sloth bears, jackals among a myriad of birds and water species like crocodiles. We left for the park in a safari jeep at around 5.30 in the morning. The dawn and dusk hours are known to be the best times to catch the animals in their natural habitat. We were damn excited about taking the safari. It was to be our first major safari. Our previous so-called safari at Jim Corbett park was a rushed affair for want of time and done mid-morning- not a good time to spot animals. I had once taken a boat safari in Thekkady, Kerala and we didn't even see a crocodile. Again the timing was completely wrong. If anyone of you is going with on a package tour, ensure that the safari has at least 4-5 hours dedicated time allotted and it is either a early morning or dusk safari.

We entered the park at around 7.a.m (yes it took us about 45 mins to reach Yala from Tissa and again we were held up at the entry gate waiting for clearance as many others chose that particular day to take the safari). We were greeted first by beautiful peacocks at such close quarters; we got lost in the beauty of the colours on our national bird. True, we have seen many at this range in the zoos but to be a visitor in their natural space is truly a different and exciting experience. In fact, there are so many peacocks, peahens and fowls (the national bird of Sri Lanka) that, we sighted one every other 10 minutes. Just the initial few yards had us clicking away as maniacs at different angles and lengths, later on we just let them be :-)
A huge tusker walked past us next, so up and close that I could just reach out my hand and pull its ears. Of course I didn't or wouldn't have done anything of that sort; I was just mesmerized by its slow gait and experienced the oneness that one feels with nature in such an atmosphere. The jeep driver was a trained guy who knew the forest like the back of his hand. He had a trained eye too, spotting animals well hidden within the green canopies or far away near the water bodies. He provided us with binoculars at strategic points.
Colourful birds of various sizes greeted us near the water bodies. It's a pity, we are no bird watchers and didn't know the names of most of them except the obvious Kingfishers, cranes and some flamingo variety. 
A pack of jackals far, far away would have been surely missed by us had it not been for our very alert and informed jeep driver. Spotted deer were abundant as were wild buffaloes. Every now and then we'd pass by fellow tourists and the drivers would exchange a one or two liners- tipping off the other of any animal that they'd have spotted on the track they were returning from. 

We were content just spotting just about any wild being without having any expectations of sighting the lone predator in such a huge jungle, the leopards, which also came with the tag of being "very rare to spot". There are in all only 35 of these spotted carnivore in the park tipping the odds against sighting one easily. Little did we know the surprise that luck had planned for us. As we were returning from a particular track, the jeep came to a sudden halt and we were hushed into finding a mother-child duo right in the middle of our path as though to oblige us. We were so excited and overwhelmed to see the duo that was blissfully unaware of the effect their presence was eliciting amongst mere mortals. They spent a good 10 minutes basking in the early morning rays doing and just being at home while we took turns in clicking snaps at every possible angle. What a magnificent sight it was! The rest of the safari paled in contrast to this moment and we were just too grateful to mother nature for choosing us to be the lucky ones. Within a span of 2 hours, we had spotted almost all the major animals that were to be found in this park, with the exception of the sloth bear, which is so rare that even our safari guide hadn't seen one in his career span of several years. 

I'll stop my commentary here and leave you with some pictures:


Wild boars


doesn't need a caption, does it? :-)

Showing off

We left for Unawatuna, a beach at Galle after lunch. It was again a 3.5 hour drive from Tissa. The weather had turned oppressive outside and our spirits were lifted only by the sights of crystal clear blue-green waters as we travelled along the coast.
More later...

Day 4 continues..

The drive to Horton Plains National Park (HPNK) via the vast green grass-fields of the Ambewala farm and New Zealand farm managed by Ambewala was a treat to our eyes. At the entry gate of the HPNK, we bought the tickets for the nature trek through the plains leading to World's End and Baker's falls. Vehicles are allowed only upto a certain point after the entry gate, after which the area is demarcated for trek lovers.

 The short trail up to the demarcated point by vehicle was home to wild stags that could be easily spotted:
Steps downwards leading to the trail

A small museum about the birds and animals present in the national park

The trail began like this..

advanced into uneven grounds like this..

We planned to walk at least upto the mini World's End which would have been around 5 kms round trip. R was a total sport and walked enthusiastically refusing to be even held when he faltered over the uneven grounds of small rocks and stones. The trail began as a cobbled path but as we proceeded further into the trail, it began to get a little muddy and rough though it was still manageable. At a particular patch, the shrubs and trees on either sides grew denser making the trail colder and a tad eerie. We came across many other trekkers, mostly foreigners, who stopped to greet us, smile at R appreciatively and carried on. Our hopes to reach at least the mini World's End rose with every advancement and as we breathed in the fresh air, listened to myriad insects and birds' sounds, enjoying nature to the fullest. We'd have made it but just as we were nearing, R showed signs of tiring down. We were still tempted to carry on but we were hesitant of tiring R further. It was unfair on the poor kid and then there was the possibility of us needing to carry him all the way back which also would have proven difficult considering the fact that we already had almost walked 2 kms into the forest. So we just thanked our luck for having come even this far and started our trail back. R kept up his spirits for a major part while we took turns in carrying him back whenever he appeared jaded or slowed down.

Fully pumped with the energy of such a power-packed morning, we bade farewell to Nuwara Eliya and started on our downward and a long journey (it took about 5 hrs) to Tissamaharama, called Tissa in short, a town 21 kms to Yala National Park where we were to take a wildlife safari. Signing off from the cooler hills we geared up to face warm to hot weather conditions from hereon. We drove through sleepy villages of Ohiya, Hauptale and Ella, where we halted at the Rawana Falls. We reached our hotel in Tissa, whic was strategically located on the banks of Tissa lake. All the rooms had sit-out areas from where one could view the serene lake. The rest of the evening at Tissa was meant to relax as we had to be up early next morning for the jeep safari.

Rawana Falls at Ella

Hotel Lake wind on the banks of Tissa lake